Flour mites are the coarsest thing I’ve ever found in my kitchen. This is an impressive, wormy list. As soon as they got a taste of my apparently delicious all-purpose flour, the little bugs came into the Farro, a few breadcrumbs, and who knows what else. I had to throw away all of the contents of the pantry, sanitize it, and complain for weeks to get over it.
Since then I have kept flour in a container in my fridge, not the bag it came in, which has too many possible mite entries (I blamed a previous renter but they could be in the flour itself, who knows). The mites love warmth and moisture, and the cold, dry refrigerator is their enemy. Plus, a good airtight container defends against intruders. But as my baking hobby grew and I started collecting freshly ground whole wheat flour, local corn flour, and rye flour, I got an entire designated area of my refrigerator for flours (what, wow). Now it has less to do with mistakes and more to do with freshness.
White flour (such as all-purpose flour, bread flour, cake flour) has a long shelf life both in the grocery store and at home. It can take a year to go rancid as the volatile germs and bran have been removed. Recently ground whole wheat flours, on the other hand, don’t last nearly as long. That’s because they’re fresher to start with. Think of them as fresh fruit versus dried or freeze-dried fruit. When you buy white cornmeal from Anson Mills, they grind it to order just for you. This gives these products an incredibly fragrant, aromatic punch that you can taste. And unlike refined flour, whole wheat flours contain the literal whole grain. Including the shell of the grain gives the flours a nutty, healthy taste and retains all of their fiber and vitamins as well as the properties that are good for you.
Speaking of which Roxana Jullapat, the co-owner and baker of LA friends and familywrote a whole cookbook dedicated to these wonderful ingredients; check a couple of their recipes here and let me ask you to buy some barley and buckwheat flour to make them brown buttery blondes and Soufflé chocolate cake.
If you have your barley and buckwheat in the pantry, you might just have it two to three months, depending on the product, before these whole wheat flours and meals go rancid. You will be able to tell with your nose – a rancid flour smells sour and “off”.
But depending on the product, they stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to a year to Roxana’s approximation. If they’re flours that you really don’t think you use that often but are excited for special occasions, you can keep them in the freezer too.
I store my refrigerator flours in quart and pint sized deli containers, but their cylindrical shape isn’t very efficient once you start to pile up lots and lots of flours. I would recommend it 2-qt. Cambro containerthat are rectangular and stack nicely. Roxana itself uses resealable freezer bags that take up the least space. (I’d mess these up, so I prefer something sturdier.) Just make sure you date them and label them, she said to me, “When this stuff goes in the fridge, they all look the same. One is brighter than the other, but they all look the same. “You don’t want to risk cookie confusion.
Funnily enough, I now go through so much all-purpose flour that I buy it in 10 pound bags and store it right on my counter in an airtight container that was previously not susceptible to mites. While I bake, I trade in a few tablespoons or ¼ cup of a whole wheat flour in recipes that are otherwise just for all purposes (you don’t want to trade 100 percent because you might be dense and sad cakes). This is how I get my thrill!
However, the flours are starting to take over my fridge and I can only see one solution. Time for a bigger fridge.